Today I would like to introduce you to the term of cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in 1957 . It is a state of tension that arises when two or more personal attitudes are inconsistent with each other. The person that feels the inconsistency will make correction to one of the attitudes to reduce the dissonance. Have you experienced something like that?
In fact, cognitive dissonance is experienced daily to some degree. Let’s say you are on a diet and are trying to loose weight, but the cake is really good, and the candy. You eat them and say that you will just run more laps. Later on you may become restless, or guilty until you would somehow reduced the stress. We, people, overall strive to achieve a sense of internal consistency at all time.
You may ask, is there a way to reduce the uncomfortable feeling of the dissonance? Indeed, one can alter the importance of initial attitude, such as increase or decrease attractiveness of the attitudes. The smoker knows that smoking is harmful, but he/she might say ”What was mean to be, will happen”. The smoker reduces his original attitude that the smoking is harmful.
We might add new cognitions to blurry the initial inconsistency. The doctor asks a women to keeps stricter diet, and not to eat junk food. The woman tells herself that we live only once, and cheating is allowed. She tells herself, the doctor is overreacting, the diet doesn’t have to be that harsh. Or she tells, the doctor did not tell me when should I start...I just start next month. The woman reduces the cognitive dissonance by introducing those new cognitions into consideration.
Changing behavior completely is another strategy to reduce the dissonance. Imagine a very ambitious girl, who wants to go to the best university, she wants to date only as ambitious guy as heresell. But her boyfriend is a very laid back person. He has no ambition to higher education. The girl experiences tension and decides to stick with her original attitudes. She breaks up with the guy.
Why did I decide to write about it? Well, we have a pet cat Motek (meaning Sweet), it is awesome and I thought myself a cat lover who is excellent with cats. I am a Pro- as Motek is ideal. You might not know, but in Israel, there are very many stray cats, and when I saw Mr. Cat, I thought I will give him a chance. I knew I am very good with cats. It felt no trouble at all.
But when I took mr. Cat home, it turned to be one absolute nightmare. My tricks did not work. Mr. Cat did not act as a typical cat, did not like the food, did not like to play, did not hide in distress. He ran, he meowed non stop day and night, he ruined many, many things. He attacked me, my mom, our other cat. After two weeks of a non stop nightmare, fee vet visit, I gave up and decided to give Mr. Cat away to my friend. I still keep thinking that I am good with cats, and this was rather one “bad” cat. But the truth is that my friend found ways to that cat and was more successful. I just wanted to release my guilt and stress and a sense of complete helplessness.
I chose to drop an attitude that the stray cat was cute and adorable and he has a place in my home, to reduce the dissonance. I felt simultaneously being so right and so wrong. So, I decided to look up this state of mind and found the Cognitive Dissonance Theory.